Aviation biofuel and Brazil

Brazilian firm Tecbio, NASA, and Boeing have agreed to work together to produce biokerosene for aviation fuel. It’s a short article, but I thought it was interesting because it touches two of my interests: aerospace and replacements for petroleum products. When I think of replacing our (i.e., US) dependence on petroleum, my mind always sticks on automobiles. I am entirely dependent on them (when I’m at home). But I also depend on aviation, else I wouldn’t be here in France—I needed the plane to jump the ocean and much of the background I did to get accepted here was done by traveling.

Debunking a myth

The most common question I am asked when I travel is “how do you afford it?” And this is often asked, sardonically, “are you rich?” Simply: no. I don’t have time to explain my whole “system” of getting around, but here is a quick look at a few principles.

  • I didn’t spend much money during my last semester of grad school. The best way to describe this is to say that I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch everyday, though once a week I’d go out to eat. Part of this was choice, part was chance—my closest friends from school left a year before me, so I went out to Murphy’s Pub fewer times that last semester.
  • I volunteer at conferences. This allowed me to get into events and reduced rates or free.
  • When possible, I find sponsorship from organizations to attend conferences or, currently, ISU.
  • When I travel, I usually stay with friends or family. This is the principle that is the most uncomfortable—I don’t want to be a freeloader. Without this help I would have fewer stories to tell. What do I bring to my hosts? Very little, except another person to look after, and when you consider that I have done this in India, not just Toronto or Virginia, the task of taking care of me is a significant task. Granted, I am not just traveling to travel—I’m traveling to visit friends or for business. The only thing I can offer is that anyone is welcome in my house, which, in central Illinois, is off the beaten path, but I’ll move on to a more central place soon. And you should visit.
  • I could use some new clothes, glasses, and contact lenses, but I’ve put that off until I get a career job (soon).

Of course, none of this is magic. It’s quite mundane. There are a few tricks like how to eat on the road without going broke (19 days from Mojave to Illinois spending ~$40 on food, for example), but there is nothing complex. The underlying idea is that to get where I want to go, I accept that I must make some sacrifices where I am.

Ugh, don’t bother me

I’m finishing up the editing of our team project report—32 people, 14 countries, one goal: finish a 150-page (max) report on a project to make earth observation system options more accessible to “decision makers,” i.e., high-level public servants and business managers.

The sub-goal is perhaps to do it without developing a sincere disdain for each other.

Paris trip via Google Earth

[All of the links are Google Earth placemarks—that’s what the .kmz file extensions are]

Starting at the Gare Centrale in Strasbourg at 12:19am, we arrived at the Gare de l’Est in Paris at roughly 7am. During the day, Dave and I traveled to:

[hopefully coming soon: a tour of the path we took around the city]

We only had ten hours in Paris, so we got around as much as we could. And no, it wasn’t a romantic trip; Dave’s fiancé might have something to say about that…

Preparing to roll on…

Wooo, update: I have a ride to Barcelona with three other guys from ISU on 2 September. And there is a small amount of funding available if I present our ISU team project paper at the International Astronautical Congress in Valencia. Getting to Spain was a huge hurdle, and staying in Spain—without running out of money—during September was a second hurdle that immediately followed that one. Other issues remain such as where I’m going to stay in Barcelona and Valencia, but hey—things tend to turn out well in the end if you put enough sensible effort into preparation.

That’s funny—there were only nine planets when I woke up…

Now there are twelve planets, apparently, thanks to a draft resolution from the International Astronomical Union’s General Assembly.

Really I don’t care that much if Pluto is a planet or not. Astronomers, for all of their empirical, stiff exterior, however, have an emotional attachment to it—one way or the other, for or against. It’s not about numbers, no matter what the verbiage in the draft resolution says—Pluto remains a planet because it has always been a planet.

And that’s OK with me.

Pluto would always have nostalgia saving its status. Maybe not just nostalgia—inertia. Emotional inertia. Discovering another planet in the solar system is a big deal. For all of my cynicism, I recognize that. It’s like discovering a new continent or island on Earth, or discovering a new element. To try to take away the prestige of a fundamental discovery would not even be seriously considered. The solar system is our neighborhood, and when new neighbors are discovered it makes the place that we live more interesting. As residents, we become accustomed to the neighborhood and we are comfortable that we know all of its other residents. Even though all of these objects have always existed in the solar system, they never had status, and now that there is the opportunity for status, there is the opportunity to identify more residents and to slightly change what we know about our identity.

It’s funny what a title can do. Suddenly, Ceres has status. Now it is important. On 15 August, Ceres was an asteroid. On 16 August it is a planet. We learn about the asteroid belt as students, floating there uninterestingly between Mars and Jupiter, not taking on any life or importance of its own. A footnote—something that has to be covered after the rocky planets but before you get to the gas giants.

Now Ceres is a planet. And so is Pluto’s moon Charon, and an object known as 2003 UB313 that is so far away that it takes approximately 560 years to make one revolution. What’s more important is that there are likely more objects out there that will be known as planets. They just have to be found.

There are candidate planets…

Yeah, I certainly sound like a space cadet about all of this, but I don’t mind. My cynicism has hardened me sufficiently to avoid getting too excited about personally exploring space, but the discovery of the strange things that are out in the solar system or universe—or any discovery on Earth—still excites me. It’s the only part of my self that still connects to the six-year-old in me.

Where in the world is ISU?

Check it out, Google Earth placemark: International Space University, Illkirch-Graffenstaden, France

i.e., where the “party” is from 8am to 8pm every day…

Also, our home: Foyer l’Etudiant Catholique, Strasbourg, France. Yes, it’s called FEC—the Irish kids here love that name…

Update: Here is the path that I take every day from FEC to ISU. Go to Tools > Play Tour (or ctrl + alt + P) and you can take a tour. It’s not that impressive of a tour; this is the first time that I have created a path in the upgrade of Google Earth Plus that I just purchased yesterday.

That is, I just updated from a relatively benign drug to something much more serious.

To Prague

Nothing to write about this weekend—Australian Dave (i.e., Dai-eeve), Jo, and Jorge are heading to the Czech Republic this weekend to do… whatever there is to do there. I’ve heard good things, and I’ll report back with pictures. All I know is that it’s not part of the Eurozone, so I get to pick up another form of currency: the Koruny—approximately 1 US dollar equals 22 of those.